Practicing a contentious area of law requires its own set of skills on top of the ones expected of any solicitor. (If you’re not sure what those more general skills are, this article is a good place to start.) The Jackson reforms (which were implemented in April 2013) have had significant impact on the litigation landscape and what is expected of the litigators themselves. If you’re a trainee solicitor hoping to practice litigation after qualification, or a newly qualified litigator, these are the traits to focus on honing.
Litigation exists to resolve disputes, so you need to have a will to win on behalf of your clients. Disputes can get complicated, messy, and sometimes personal, which is when fighting strength becomes crucial. If the other side makes mistakes, you’ll be expected to exploit them. Showing up every day with a tough mental attitude and resilience will not only help you do that, it will demonstrate to your clients that they were right to put confidence in you.
Make your diary your best friend. Miss a deadline and you could face a hefty sanction. Key dates should always be clearly marked in your calendar - and someone else’s, just in case. Being busy is part of the job, so organising your obligations and managing your time effectively are very important skills for a litigator.
A fierce eye for detail
Sometimes, being a good litigator isn’t about having the strongest case, it’s about finding the holes in the other side’s case. To do that you need to be aware not only of the technical details but also of the procedural rules. A fine tooth comb is always a necessary accessory for a litigator. Having said that, paying too much attention to the detail can make you lose sight of the bigger picture, and it’s the bigger picture which should be driving your actions as a whole.
In order to win a case, you need to convince the other side or the Judge of the merits of your argument and the weakness of the other argument. This relates both to on paper arguments and in person ones. Persuasiveness is vital when it comes to noticing settlement opportunities and conducting negotiations.
A communication pro
Even though communication is a vital skill for non-contentious solicitors, too, it’s worth reiterating the importance of it for litigators. You should be able to sum up an argument succinctly, present your position clearly, and lay out the merits of the dispute and the next steps to take. A confusing, rambling explanation won’t be helpful for your clients, and could be detrimental to your case. In addition, you will sometimes have to relay news to your client that they won’t want to hear. Communicating constructively will be your best chance of preserving the relationship.
Quick thinking and adaptable
Litigation cases almost always involve curveballs. You need to be able to anticipate them as best you can, and quickly adapt when they’re unexpected. Being able to react suitably in an on the spot situation, such as a settlement offer made over the phone, will be crucial to the ultimate outcome of the case.
If you’re a trainee with an interest in pursuing a career in litigation, our Trainee Litigation Programme is perfect preparation. You’ll be taught the crucial skills by former or current contentious advocates and be put in realistic role play situations, so you can put those skills into practice in a supportive environment.